Sparta, Ill. — The past 12 months have been an interesting time in southern Illinois. Two major attractions celebrated anniversaries in 2022.
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge celebrated its 75th anniversary this year, and it has been 50 years since Rend Lake opened. Think of how Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and Rend Lake have changed life in southern Illinois. It’s inconceivable to drive Route 13 across the southern part of the state and not cross Crab Orchard.
A new administration building was dedicated at Crab Orchard this year. A new Visitor Center is expected to be completed in early 2023.
Think of all the family outings, the goose hunting trips, and all the fishing trips. The state’s oldest bass fishing tournament, the Bill Harkins/Don Sanders Four-Man Tournament, came into existence because of Crab Orchard Lake.
For most of its existence, Crab Orchard Lake has been considered a prime bass fishing destination in the Midwest.
But, the Refuge has meant more than that. Since its inception, Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge has been a place where people can escape from the realities of life, even if just for an afternoon. It’s a place to walk, search for wildflowers, or just sit beneath a shade tree and stare at waves rolling to the shore.
The presence of Rend Lake has been equally important.
Rend Lake draws crappie anglers from throughout the state. For years Rend Lake Resort was a vacation destination where families could stay on the lake, launch their boats or just enjoy each other’s company.
This past year also was something of a return to normalcy since the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Grand American, held annually at Sparta’s World Shooting and Recreational Complex, resumed without restrictions.
This year also marked the return of a full-fledged Southern Illinois Celebration of National Hunting and Fishing Days. The event returned in an abbreviated form in 2021, but underwent a full resurrection this year.
There was a major change this year – after more than 30 years at John A. Logan College in Carterville, Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days was moved to the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds this year.
Finally, there has been some progress in a movement to transition the Shawnee National Forest to the Shawnee National Park and Climate Preserve.
Organizers believe the transition will be good for the climate, the environment, and will benefit southern Illinois economically.